Edin Dzeko's first-half header saw Manchester City beat South China 1-0 in their Asia Trophy semi-final in Hong Kong.
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New City coach Manuel Pellegrini returned after compassionate leave to see his charges record the first victory of his tenure.
On a difficult surface churned up by torrential rain and the first semi earlier on Wednesday, City produced a workmanlike performance with only man-of-the-match James Milner producing any real quality of note.
The tireless England midfielder crossed from the right in the 21st minute for Dzeko to head home from close range, and that proved to be the only goal.
New signing Alvaro Negredo was introduced in the second of two 40-minute periods, but the impressive organisation of South China frustrated the visitors and prevented them from making many in-roads.
Dzeko came closest to a second goal when he powered a shot at the keeper from Negredo's ball into the box, as City set up a final clash against Sunderland on Saturday.